Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose and poetry

Archive for the category “Book reviews”

Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga 
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the past, I’ve ploughed at a snail’s pace through Man Booker Prize winning novels or abandoned them altogether. Thus, when a friend lent me their copy of the 2008 winning novel The White Tiger, I opened it without much optimism but, to my amazement, found myself hooked from the first page.

The story is set in India, and takes place over a period of one week (the same length of time I took to read the book!). It opens with the main character, Balram, writing the start of an “autobiographical” letter to His Excellency Wen Jiabao from China, who is due to visit India the following week.

What follows is an extraordinary tale of a rather disreputable character, who calls himself an entrepreneur and considers he’s one of India’s success stories. Born into a poor family and taken out of school early, Balram is determined to better himself and rise through the social ranks, by means most foul if necessary. His self-justification for his  ruthless actions is beyond the pale, but I found myself intrigued by him and half-wanting him to succeed, while all the time thinking, No, he can’t be planning that – No, this cannot be about to happen – No, he really has done this horrendous thing.

The novel is an eye-opener, and one that has left me with a more complete picture of India. As David Mattin wrote in his review in the Independent on Sunday, “Adiva sets out to show us a part of [India] that we hear about infrequently; its underbelly”. It is a story about the haves and the have-nots, and one man who talks himself into the coveted job of a driver for a rich man and his wife, learns fast through listening hard and manipulating circumstances in his favour, and, in doing so, decides his employers are undeserving of their privilege and he the more deserving.

The writing is fast-paced, seamless, succinct, and yet richly descriptive. The paragraphs are short, so there is lots of white space (which, in my experience, is unusual for a literary novel). I loved the dialogue, as well as Balram’s inner dialogue. He has to be one of the most intriguing anti-hero I’ve come across in a novel in a long time. I really disliked him as a person, but found myself understanding where he was coming from and wondering if he’d succeed in his quest or end up incarcerated in prison for life.

A highly recommended read.

Book Review: Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen MinutesNineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

However difficult the subject, Jodi Picoult always delivers big-time. She has an incredible capacity to show all sides of the story from the different viewpoints of characters trapped in ethical dilemmas. She never moralises, or allows even an ounce of author intrusion. Instead, she takes the reader right into the heads and hearts of those characters who are telling the story.

Nineteen Minutes is about a sensitive boy who has to suffer years of bullying, which begins the day he starts nursery school and continues through the years until, at the age of 17, he snaps and goes on a shooting spree in his high school. His mother is a midwife who brings babies into this world and now her son has become a murderer. She never realised that he had a problem, so you can imagine where that takes her on the self-blame front.

Basically, this a story about a situation that is every parent’s idea of a nightmare. Told from the third person viewpoints of the main players, while moving backwards and forwards between different time strands, the author skilfully builds up detailed psychological and social profiles of these characters, plus taking the reader through the gathering of evidence for the court case that follows the shooting.

This is a long novel (nearly 600 pages), but well worth the read, albeit a galling one. It made me think deeply about contemporary society and the “in-crowd” versus those it excludes. It also made me glad that I’m the age I am and not having to go through school now, especially with the added pressure of social networking.

I found it very hard to put this novel down, but it left me exhausted afterwards and unable to settle to reading any other work of fiction straight after.

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Book Review: The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J Walker

My rating : 5 of 5 stars 

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J Walker is a post-apocalyptic novel set in 2021. “Hell!” I hear you say. “That’s not far in the future.” As you know, things can escalate very fast, especially when it comes to politics. People become hot under the collar, extreme in their views and, in the worst-case scenario, society could collapse.

This story is told from two different viewpoints: a mongrel dog named Lineker and his owner, Reginald Hardy.

Lineker swears a lot, and some readers may not approve of this, but I thought it worked well and added rather than detracted from my enjoyment of the story. Obviously nobody knows exactly what it’s like inside a dog’s brain, but if a dog of Lineker’s personality were to use human words, then he would use the f-word and the c-word without compunction, in particular with regard to cats, squirrels, foxes, and disagreeable humans. Even though he relates his insights and his plot narration in the English language, I would not class this as an anthropomorphic exercise. He is always very much an authentic dog of huge personality. Also, I felt that the author obviously knows his dogs well; he includes a great deal of interesting background information about their relationship with humans from the earliest times, when wild dogs first became domesticated.

Reginald worked as an electrician before the apocalypse, which comes in useful for fixing his recalcitrant generator, as well as it equipping him with a skill that post-apocalyptic society can use. The trouble is, he’s a loner who can’t abide any sort of physical contact with other humans, even a quick handshake; thus, the fact that the majority of people have left London and that he has the immediate neighbourhood all to himself, is a total boon, and he’s not in a hurry to leave it, until a starving orphan girl turns up on his doorstep, refuses to leave, and then asks for his help with something that involves him having to leave his flat. Lineker and the girl bond straightaway, and so it’s two against one when it comes to the final decision about this.

What follows is an adventure to end all adventures, triggering a rollercoaster of emotions. I found myself laughing, near to tears, my stomach in knots, breathless with anticipation, and, most important of all, I really cared for the three main characters. As for the baddies, they were spit-worthy and you wanted the worst for them. At the same time, you could understand their motivation, however twisted it might seem.

A highly recommended read (except for those who belong to the anti-swearing brigade!).

[Note:  There are two novels of the same title, as there are no copyright restrictions when it comes to book titles, so make sure that if you like the sound of the novel I’m reviewing, that you don’t end up ordering the other one and wonder what I’m rabbiting on about.]

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And a post script for my fellow authors re marketing…

I stumbled upon this fabulous book by typing in the keywords “dog fiction” on Amazon. Quite a number of books came up, but the brilliant and rather quirky yellow and black cover to Adrian J Walker’s novel particularly caught my eye. Then I read the product description, which wowed me so much that I had to read the opening pages of the novel. After that, I was so hooked, it wouldn’t have mattered what the paperback cost; I just had to buy it. This proves that experts’ advice about selling books on Amazon is true, although not all of us have Del Ray (an Imprint of Ebury Publishing/Penguin) as our publishers)!

Then, of course, there’s the marketing ploy when you’ve got to the end of a novel, only to discover some additional pages with an excerpt from another book by the same author. Thus, I found the first thirty pages of Adrian J Walker’s novel The End of the World Running Club, which hooked me so completely that I had to order a copy of the book straight away. I’m now two-thirds of the way through reading this and will post a review in due course.

Review: Feeding Time by Adam Biles

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This début novel is possibly the quirkiest one I’ve ever read. It’s set in a care home from hell, Green Oaks, which is directed/neglected by Raymond Cornish, a middle-aged guy who needs serious therapy himself and spends most of his time ensconced in his office, masturbating and leching over a teenage girl he can see out of the window at the bus stop most days and with whom he’s determined to get his end away.

The residents of Green Oaks suffer from dementia in varying degrees. Their elected commander-in-chief is someone who calls himself Captain Ruggles, having constructed from his delusions a complete history of his heroic actions in the war. He’s a wonderful character who you can’t help but applaud for his constant rebellion against the Care Friends (Carers) whom he believes are Nazis controlling the prison camp of which he’s an internee; hence his frequent attempted escapes.

The Care Friends are total pieces of work, especially with their Supervisor off his head on drugs most of the time. Of course the title “Care Friends” is a sick joke, as they are the worst enemies of the residents, and this is no delusion on the part of Captain Ruggles.

Adam Biles writes in a vivid and faultless literary style that plays on all the senses: in fact, his quality of writing is excellent. However, I decided to award his novel four rather than five stars for the following two reasons.

My first problem with the story is that in the real world, I cannot imagine a care home going so off the radar that it isn’t subject to regular statuary inspections. In the case of somewhere as bad as Green Oaks, at the very least it would be subject to warnings to improve followed by unannounced inspections, but more likely it would be a candidate for instant closure. As for the residents’ relatives, it seems too far-fetched that their visits are so rare and that they are so easily conned by the annual “show”, when the Care Friends give the home a temporary face-lift for their benefit.

My second problem is that there is too much preoccupation with bodily functions. Yes, I know that people suffering from dementia lose control over their bowels and bladders, and can become generally disinhibited in their behaviour, but there is just an overdose of excrement of one kind and another. Also, there was one chapter in the book about a rotting corpse, where things became so gross that I had to skim read a number of pages, and skim reading is something I rarely do. So I feel bound to warn readers, do not open this novel when eating, as you will definitely lose your appetite fast.

Would I read another novel by Adam Biles? Yes. I love his originality and his fluent prose, plus, I think that if he keeps writing, he’ll be a serious contender for a much-coveted literary prize sometime in the future.

As a footnote to this review, I feel compelled to give a special mention to the limited edition that is in my possession as it’s a wonder to behold. The publishers, Galley Beggar Press have produced a book that is simple and yet classy in design. I love the minimalism of the soft back black dust jacket with green interior, the blurb, and the author’s bio. There are also some wondrous, surprising, and fun black and white illustrations by Melanie Amaral and Stephen Crowe throughout the book.

Please note that the limited edition described above, I ordered direct from the publishers, Beggar Galley Press. However the mass-market paperback and Kindle editions for sale on Amazon (UK) & (US) are green, although the green paperback edition is also available direct from the publisher.

Review: The Elsewhen Gene by Gary Bullock

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I adore time travel romances, so was thrilled when Gary Bullock asked me to beta read his wonderful novel and write an honest review after the book’s publication.

The Elsewhen Gene is entrancing and brought many smiles to my face. It is one of those novels that has a real feel-good factor about it and reminded me that hope and beauty still exist, as well as innumerable mysteries on a cosmic scale. The writing flows with the same gentle forward momentum and intertwining of light and shade as a sun-mottled brook. The descriptions are vivid and the dialogue authentic to the characters, whom I adored.

Laura and Elijah are both science geniuses and soulmates since childhood. Elijah sees future events. Laura sees what she thinks are ghosts but are really people in another universe into which she can sidestep at will. A romance between two such unusual people is never going to run according to convention, when it involves multiple universes and alternate lives. But it is a story of enduring passion between them both, as well as their crusade to reunite another couple who have ended up in separate universes to each other.

The novel has a most satisfactory end, but I am hoping that the author has more adventures in store for Laura and Elijah in a possible sequel.

The Elsewhen Gene is available at any of the following links

Amazon (US)  (Paperback and Kindle) & Amazon (UK) (Kindle only)
Next Century Publishing  & GoRead (Paperback only)
Nook & Kobo (eBook)

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Gary Bullock was born and grew up in the hills of East Tennessee, then worked in New England, where he got his first film acting job, as Abraham Lincoln in a commercial for a Detroit radio station. He met his mate, Mil Nicholson there, and they were married in 1987 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre on the set of The Importance of Being Earnest.

They moved to the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, where he won his first film role in Winter People. He has also toured with Poetry Alive!, performing poetry in schools all over the East. He has written and performed his own one-man show as Abraham Lincoln. He and Mil also worked in dinner theatre, and carried out an artist’s residency program in theatre in Western North Carolina schools.

Gary and Mil then moved to Los Angeles in 1992, just in time for the riots, the fires, the floods, and the Northridge earthquake, and a co-starring part in Twin Peaks –Fire Walk With Me. Some other notable film roles were in Lakota Woman and Terminal Velocity, and most recently, Racing Stripes. Gary was a member of Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble in Hollywood as an actor, then later became a writer/actor member of Playwrights 6, also in Hollywood. Two of his scripts and part of a third were developed there.

He began writing partly to preserve his sanity during slow times for acting work, and because there were stories he wanted to tell. He soon found that he loved it. He has written both in book and in screenplay form.

Gary and Mil returned to North Carolina in 2005, and are busy writing, recording audiobooks, raising apples, persimmons, paw-paws, a large organic garden, dogs (a Jack Russell and a Silken Windhound at present), and watching the wildlife.

Book Review: Enemies of the People by Sam Jordison

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a first for me, getting political online. There are some books that you wish you’d read earlier rather than later, and Enemies of the People is one such book. Not that it was available prior to the Brexit vote, or the electing of a reality TV star as President of the US. It seems we’re victims of lies and manipulation; this book tells us who the culprits are, plus a great deal more.

In Enemies of the People, Sam Jordison doesn’t pretend objectivity and, by his own admission, wrote it quickly and in anger.  On the front cover are the words “We’re all screwed and here’s who to blame”, and in his blurb he holds men responsible for the whole mess: mostly white men in a temper (not including himself, of course!).

Primarily, this is a history book written by somebody who can write “more than 140 characters at a time” and sees it as a “golden opportunity to snatch back the narrative and set the record straight”. The book does not go into great depth but is a series of snapshots of fifty people whom the author feels have had the greatest negative influence on our society. These include certain British prime ministers and US presidents, past and present; current members of parliament;  deranged dictators; people on the Rich List (some skilful, some moronic); founders of religions, from the relatively sane, through to extremist sects, down to the plain screwy; royalty, with William the Conqueror thrown in for good measure, and a closing chapter dedicated to a medical charlatan/founder of a commercial radio station, who almost became governor of Kansas in the 1930s and could be seen as a metaphor for our times.

Of the fifty people mentioned, not all of them are wholly bad or lacking in areas of brilliance, but I’m hazarding a guess that a fair percentage of them suffer from narcissistic personality disorders (or have suffered, because they’re now dead). A few have meant well, but power has corrupted them, filling them with greed, or they’ve just lost their way.

As the author points out, by the time this book went into print it was probably out of date in some respects. Certainly the chapter about Jeremy Corbyn needs updating, although, unlike the author, I had no issue with the Leader of the Opposition having “sloped off to his allotment association’s annual get together while most of his cabinet were busy resigning following the Brexit vote”. But then, as a keen allotmenteer myself, I can’t think of a better way to get away from it all and clear my head.

In summary, I enjoyed this book in a perverse way. It confirmed what I already suspected about those in charge of our society, with all the spin, lies, hypocrisy, greed, manipulation, and contradiction. This should have depressed me, but I felt oddly empowered by knowing my enemy better. Sam Jordison’s writing is pacey, entertaining, easy to read, and peppered with wry wit.  He comes over as very passionate about truth, justice, and the betterment of society.

I now challenge him to write a book titled “Friends of the People”…

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Sam Jordison is co-director of an Indy publisher Galley Beggar Press in Norwich (www.galleybeggar.co.uk) and editor of Crap Towns. He’s a journalist for The Guardian and writes regular articles about books and publishing on their website (www.theguardian.com/profile/samjordison). He also runs the online book club The Reading Group (www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/reading-group) and the annual Not The Booker Prize.

Enemies of the People is available from all good bookshops in the UK, as well as from HiveWaterstones, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Book review: The Writer and the Rake by Shehanne Moore

The Writer and the Rake (Time Mutants #2)The Writer and the Rake by Shehanne Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I totally loved everything about this time-travel romance and would give it ten stars if I could.

Brittany Carter is an author, who drinks, smokes, and parties too much. After a surreal encounter with a character called Morte, she’s transported to the Georgian era and meets bad boy Mitchell Killgower, who is locked into an inheritance dispute with some hateful relatives of his deceased wife. When Brittany materialises out of nowhere, he hopes she can prove useful by pretending to be his obedient and mousy wife for long enough to hoodwink those who hold the purse strings and stop his son getting the inheritance. The only trouble is that the feisty Brittany is incapable of fitting into this role and Mitchell has truly met his match on the impossible person’s front.

I don’t want to give too much away, as this will spoil readers’ fun; and the novel is such great fun, in a quirky sense of the word, always sustaining a great forward momentum with wonderfully entertaining dialogue. Come to think of it, I don’t recall the author using any dialogue tags at all and, if she did, they weren’t intrusive.

Brittany is often insufferable, but also pretty cool in a chaotic way. Mitchell is a Mr Darcy type: dark, handsome, brooding, stubborn, hard to impress, and master of his heart, but decidedly sexier than the original. His relationship with Brittany is meant as a short-term arrangement of convenience and nothing more. And the feeling is mutual …until it isn’t.

Speaking of the raunchy scenes, Shehanne Moore knows how to write about sex in a way that’s humorous, playful, erotic and, at times, intense. It’s never explicit, because it doesn’t need to be; the subtle interplay of all the human senses is sufficient.

On the hilarity front, the crowning moment for me is when Mitchell rifles through Brittany’s bag and puzzles over its contents from the future, and then questions her about one of the items in particular.

If you haven’t already guessed, I fell in love with Mitchell and felt really sorry for him when Brittany kept appearing and disappearing. A rake like Mitchell does not give his heart easily to a woman, preferring the casual company of floosies when needs dictate.

The Writer and the Rake can be read as a standalone novel, even though it’s the second part of a series. One reviewer has suggested that, in order to understand the time mutants better, it’s an idea to read the series in the right order, starting with The Viking and the Courtesan.

As you can imagine, Time Mutants #1 is near the top of my reading list, as I can’t get enough of Shehanne Moore’s writing and am delighted to have discovered someone with such a fresh and original voice.

A highly recommended read.

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Review: Christy Birmingham’s Poetry Collection “Versions of The Self”

 

Versions of the Self

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THE POETRY COLLECTION AS DESCRIBED BY CHRISTY 

Imagine a shift to the way you see the world that arises through poetic narration. Imagine the world, at its base level, is a collection of selves. These selves collide, disperse, intermingle, and share themselves in lines of free verse. Such is the premise of Versions of the Self, poetry that assumes multiple types of selves exist and relate in ways that alter them. Each of the eight chapters looks at a different type of self, including the singular “I” and romantic interactions. These unique 80 poems definitely color themselves outside of the lines.

MY REVIEW

Christy Birmingham has written her poetry collection Versions of The Self from the first-person viewpoint because it’s about her personal journey. At first I found the constant use of the word “I” off-putting, but my initial reaction fast metamorphosed into feeling privileged, as a reader, to share in Christy’s honest account of putting herself back together, having had a relationship with someone who did his best to destroy her.

She tells of her deep love for this man and his gradual undermining of her confidence through mind-games and abuse, before leaving her for another woman. The form of manipulation she describes him inflicting upon her, is an archetypical use of what psychologists call “gaslighting”, in which the perpetrator’s tactics of manipulation ultimately cause the victim to no longer trust her own judgment. In fact, Christy does have a BA in Psychology and it’s possible that her area of study has retrospectively contributed towards her ability to express in words her traumatic experience.

What follows is an account of a woman lying in fragments, who must somehow learn to see herself as a whole person again and think herself worthy of love, or able to trust another to give of her love to him. It makes incredibly emotive reading, as she makes a detailed examination of the fragments, draws them together, starts to trust her own judgment, and rediscovers joy. It’s a redefining of her as a person, as she comes to accept that she cannot undo her experiences or lose the memory of them, but she can learn to move on beyond them and be a valid human being, with so much to give to the world. In fact, what I loved about Christy’s account was that not for a moment did she wallow in self-pity. Often, I wanted to give her a big hug and say “you are so, so brave. Go for it, gal!”

This poetry collection makes such an emotive read and would speak volumes to people who have or still are experiencing what Christy describes. I loved the way the writing flowed along in free verse with such forward momentum, occasionally pausing on its journey for detailed contemplation of a tiny detail. Christy has such a unique way of organising words and a fresh way of describing exactly what she means, but from a lateral slant.

A highly recommended read.

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Connect with Christy at her wonderful blog Poetic Parfait.

And on social media…

Twitter
Google +
Goodreads
Pinterest

Versions of The Self (kindle & paperback) is available at
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
amazon.ca
Plus other Amazon stores

 

Review: Indiot (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 2)

Indiot by Ana Spoke

Indiot (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 2)
by Ana Spoke (Goodreads Author)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Isa Maxwell’s second adventure proves to be even more entertaining than the first and decidedly more dangerous. This time, the dippy but well-intentioned blonde, having made oodles of money from writing a book, embarks on a trip to India to use some of her wealth to help the poor and dispossessed, plus a supposedly down-on-his-luck prince.

On her flight out to India, Isa meets the glamorous and bejewelled Vivian, who seems like best-friend material at first acquaintance. [Anything further about this relationship would be a spoiler, so my lips are sealed.]

Isa’s arrival in Delhi is a total culture shock. Noise, fumes, chaos, locals haggling for business, police corruption, Indian mafia activities, you name it, Isa finds it, or it finds her. It’s as if her naïvety, combined with good-heartedness, acts as a magnet to those looking for easy pickings. But to underestimate Isa’s ability to pull out all the stops (albeit with plentiful blunders on the way), is to assume that she isn’t capable of great ingenuity when it comes to survival.

Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades Book 1) was primarily comedy chic-lit, but Indiot is a thriller with OTT elements that amount to comedy of the variety that makes you cover your face or clutch your head as you wonder if things can get any worse for Isa. It would make a great comedy thriller movie, and the fact that I kept seeing it as such, says a great deal about Ana Spoke’s ability to paint an extremely vivid picture of India as seen very much through her central protagonist’s eyes: the idealistic outsider learning the hard way about an alien culture.

Ana Spoke gave me an advance copy of Indiot in exchange for an honest review, although my apologies to the author for not making it until nearly a week after publication day. I actually read the novel in two sittings, which says much about its ability to grip the reader’s attention.The only negative to me–and it’s only something small–was that I felt that there could be a little more about Isa’s relationship with Mr Hue and with her friend Harden in Book 1. This was necessary both as a recap for those who read the previous novel soon after it came out (about 9 months ago), as well as to anyone who picked up Book 2 first and read it as a standalone. So, everybody, read both novels, and read them in the right order.

And when you reach the end of Indiot, I can pretty much guarantee that Ana Spoke will have left you dying to read Isa Maxwell’s Escapade Book 3.

This is an author whose writing gets better and better…

Indiot (Amazon US)
Indiot (Amazon UK)

Goodreads review of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 1)
If you missed reading Shizzle, Inc, you can now download it for free on Kindle (Amazon US & Amazon UK).

Ana Spoke’s blog 
Ana Spoke — Goodreads Author

February’s Guest Storyteller, Ana Spoke (2016)

Review: Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a an exceptionally quirky story. It’s main characters are a hitman who enjoys breaking legs and various other limbs for money, until he starts reading the Bible; a woman priest sacked from her job who doesn’t believe in God but has a brilliant brain for business, and a male receptionist at the hotel where the hitman is staying after release from prison for the nth time.

It took me a while to get into this novel, mostly due to the strong authorial voice employed. Once I’d accepted that Jonas Jonasson was narrating the tale as would someone versed in the oral tradition of storytelling, and I got into the rhythm of it, then the novel grew on me.

On the dust-jacket of the novel, words such “outrageously zany”, “many laughs”, a “comic delight”, and “feel-good” are applied to it.

Did I think it was funny? I guess so, but more like amusing than hilariously funny. Yes, it was zany. Maybe some of the hilariousness was lost in translation and different nationalities often have different senses of humour. To a Swedish person, the book is probably hilarious. To a British person, not so hilarious. Maybe it’s because I’m used to Nordic noir and not so used to Swedish comedy.

Humour beside, it’s a clever plot, with plenty of twists, turns, and double-crossings. The discussions between the hitman and the priest about God are priceless. In fact, I like the banter and dialogue best.

All in all, if you want to read a novel that doesn’t take too much effort and, in a diverse way (considering the subject matter), does have a feel-good factor rather like watching a farce on television or in the theatre, then give this a go.

I was smiling whilst writing this review, so the novel must have left behind some positive traces.

Give it a go. I’ll certainly try another of Jonasson’s novels in the future.

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